The first year in the new country

Shabtai and his wife Batsheva lived in Rishon Lezion (which means “The First to Zion” in Hebrew) with their two sons, Edni and Dani, ten years older than me. Shabtai changed his name when he arrived in Israel in 1926 to the Hebrew translation of Motyl (butterfly) which is “parpar”; his name became Shabtai Parpari. The two sons were in the Israeli Defense Forces – Dani in the intelligence division Modyin, and Edni in the paratrooper regiments. We spent a couple of months in Rishon and started to get acquainted with the language and the people.

Israel was a very new country when we arrived in 1957 as it was created by the United Nations in 1948. The country was younger than I was! There was paradox between the newly created nation and the 3,000 years of history of the best-known region in the world: the Middle East. I was now living in the cradle of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. You acquire a completely different view of the religious writings when the places mentioned, like the Galilee, Jaffa, Jericho or Jerusalem are familiar to you – when you girl-friend lives the Galilee or your school is in Jaffa. You also know the environment, the weather, the people.

I explored the surroundings and met the neighbors’ kids. We walked to the town center and I discovered Bazooka chewing gum, an American import, and of course falafel. Falafel is still one of my favorite foods, together with schnitzel, my mother’s specialty. We climbed huge fig trees and ate their sweet fruit. I continued catching insects and played a lot with grasshoppers, disturbing the nests of big, black ants, and collected desert darkling beetles – those beetles became my preferred toys and pets. They were common everywhere but it was fun to follow their track in the sand, on the vast sand dunes that surrounded Rishon, and many towns like Holon and Bat-Yam.

Darkling beetle in the dunes
Beetle tracks

I started to pick up more and more words in Hebrew. My parents and I began intensive study an “ulpan” (oolpahn). Anulpan (Hebrew: אולפן) is an institute or school for the intensive study of Hebrew, common and necessary in a country of immigrants. In September, I started school, in fourth grade. My Hebrew improved daily. The most difficult part was to learn how to write in a new alphabet and read too. As I did later with the other languages I learned, I saw it as a game, as a fun new experience. New alphabet, new works, new grammar – all that was very exciting to me. I made good progress and spoke basic Hebrew in a few weeks.

Because Shabtai was an administrator at the Housing Authority called Amidar, we were allocated a small apartment in a new development called Rasco Bet in the town of Holon near Tel Aviv. The buildings were three stories high with 6 entrances called “shikunim” or subsidized housing. There were about 12 buildings. There was no natural gas piped in so my mother cooked on a oil camp stove called “primus” in the small balcony/storage closet off the small kitchen. One day, trying to cook some eggs for me and Jan, who was three years old, I accidentally set fire to the balcony/closet. There was minimal damage, a blackened wall, as I quickly put the fire out with a big towel. I have been a scout, a Red Pioneer, and knew how to deal with fire. I was punished and had to stay in my room for a while.

As I mentioned, my solitary trips often led to the vast dunes south of our development. There were miles of sand dunes between Holon, Rishon Lezion, and the sea. I caught the big, black beetles, about one inch long, and brought the home. I built houses and labyrinths from blocks and Legos, and let the beetles race in the structures.

The dunes were no further than a block away from the apartment. Almost every night, we could hear the desert jackals (like our coyotes) howling and calling to each other. I never saw them during the day. In the middle of the sands, I found an abandoned, unfinished house, without a roof, only one story high. I entertained myself by climbing on top of the walls and walk around. I would also jump of the one-story height because landing on the sand softened the landing. It was exciting to fly down from that high. I guess I was in good physical shape because one day, after an argument with some older, stronger boys, I escaped the skirmish by running a couple of miles all the way to the center of town, in Holon.

When Jan, my brother, was older and was able to walk, 4 or 5 years old, we would go to parks and enjoy the carousels and the swings. It was hot, especially during summer vacations. When we got thirsty, I would jump the fence into a yard, or lawn looking for a water faucet. Because water was precious, the owners would remove the handle from the top to avoid water theft. I carried a handle that fit most yard faucets. I used my handle, and drank to quench my thirst. When I was done, if Jan could not get over the fence or jump into the yard, and I did not have a cup or any other container, I would fill my mouth with water and pass it to Jan, into his mouth. I saw birds and African dogs doing the same thing in a documentary. You can imagine that Jan and I were very close. In those days, he was no taller than my waist and would walk wrapping his arm around my thigh.

My dad landed a job as a café-restaurant manager on the beach called Riviera in a neighboring town called Bat Yam. It was a beautiful setting, a great light-yellow sandy beach. I did not know at the time that the business was not going well because there were too few customers on this remote beach. Luckily, my dad found a better, stable job, in his profession as a timber expert and supervisor at one of the principal sawmills in Israel, owned by Solel Boneh. The company was the largest construction in Israel. My father worked there until he retired.  

More to Come – Unfinished Chapter

Move to 15 Shenkar Street in Holon

New friends

New girlfriends

New Israeli school

Start boarder school.

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